Fire investigators: HECO pole malfunction caused Kalihi wildfire

Jovie Roy
Jovie Roy
Romeo Caoili
Romeo Caoili

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

KALIHI, FORT SHAFTER (HawaiiNewsNow) - A utility pole malfunction is being blamed for a raging brush fire near homes in Kalihi and Fort Shafter that took five-and-a-half hours to contain Wednesday. The smoke could be seen from miles away.

Fire officials say the malfunction resulted in sparks, which then ignited the brush. Hawaiian Electric Company says it will examine the pole and its lines to determine what happened.

Dragging their hoses along overgrown brush, loose rocks and uneven terrain, fire crews battled a wildfire on the hillside near Romeo Caoili's home in Kalihi.

"I was driving on the freeway and my wife called me and there's a brush fire at the back of our house," he said.

Investigators say sparks from a HECO pole ignited the brush behind the Board of Water Supply base yard on Kini Place at about 9:30 AM.

"At first I heard crackling noises and then I seen smoke, so I thought it was a house that was on fire," Jovie Roy, Kalihi resident, said. "Then 10 minutes later, I just seen that it was just getting bigger."

Fire officials say the flames, fueled by winds, scattered in three directions and scorched 30 acres.

"I could smell the smoke, man, real strong," Abraham Lucas, Kalihi resident, said. "The wind blowing the fire, yeah."

"I don't know what I'm doing and I just pack up our clothes, you know," Caoili said. "I put in the boxes and luggage."

The fire fight expanded to Meyers Street when flames, traveling makai, crept to within 30 yards of the fence line behind the Hauiki public housing complex.

Air One provided support as another set of flames ran up the ridge, with Fort Shafter homes on the other side.

"It was real bad this fire," Lucas said.

"This type of brush is, unfortunately, very dry and easy to spread fire," Capt. Terry Seelig, Honolulu Fire Department, said. "When the wind is involved, it will push it faster."

It took about 75 people from the HFD, the Federal Fire Department and the Army to stop the threat. In the end, no one needed to be evacuated.

"It's a big relief for me," Caoili said.

HECO says it shut off electricity to its lines in that area, so firefighters could do their work safely. There was no power outage because customers were switched to another circuit.

Aerial photo source: Lance

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